Put the Device Down and Look Up
Author of Velocity: The Basics: Scripting with a $ here and a # to do, Web Developer and former Computing Support Analyst and Licensed Professional Counselor
July 17, 2014
I'm a techie, but in many ways I am not. I do not* use a smartphone, though I have an old Android (given to me) without service that I use at Wi-Fi hotspots maybe once or twice a week. I have a basic cell phone, which I turn on when I wake up. I usually turn it off around 6 or 6:30 p.m. upon returning home from work. I am on a computer -- on the Internet -- every day for work. And while I get online at home often, there are some weekends where I won't even touch a connected device or turn on a computer. I do not say this to pat myself on the back. Sometimes, I spend a lot of time on a computer or device. Sometimes, I waste a lot of time on a computer or device. Yet, I want to use myself as an illustration to challenge others to be constructively counter-cultural.
We live in a device-obsessed, digitally-connected (if I may use that word) world. Times have changed. I remember watching an episode of The X Files this past year and it was refreshing to see a 1990s world where people were not always looking down at a device. Agent Scully had one, but it was a tool used at times rather than a constant distraction. Today, I can drive down a street and see pedestrian after pedestrian looking down at a device (and sadly some drivers too!). It is tempting to experimentally walk somewhat towards such pedestrians to see if they notice another human being in their midst beyond just mere peripheral vision. Do they really notice what is going on around them without the distraction of a device?
Do you really notice what is going on around you without the distraction of a device? In his article You Sound OLD! - Stop Saying This at Work, Mr. Steve Bilbo mentions Generation X and Y with respect to devices. He writes, "Generation X began in 1965 and the last ones were born in 1979. Generation Y (Millennials) were kicked out of the womb, beginning in 1980 with headphones permanently attached (See Justin Beiber). Gen Y is very different than the previous generations. Technology kicked off during their generation and they have had a gadget in their very clean, little iPhone tapping hands for 20 years. Of course we had our gadgets too but, Gen Y eats, sleeps and breathes with theirs." And these individuals have entered adulthood. The current new generation is even more "connected" to devices. I see this with my older son's friends. One always wants to be on a tablet. Another is shocked that he cannot watch TV much (or at all) when he comes to our house. My son wants the same things, but we restrict it. We have seen kids stare at their devices instead of giving appropriate greetings or acknowledgement. In following the counter-cultural tone in our household, none of my kids have their own devices. They use ours with permission. This does not mean they won't eventually have their own devices when older. We are laying the foundation for our kids to be masters over and independent of devices rather than the other way around. We have seen overly-connected-to-device kids forget how to just play outside or build and create with Lego blocks and so on because such activities are trumped by devices. A rule we have in our household is that you get as much "screen time" as time you have spent in an actual book reading. My kids play Minecraft occasionally, but they spend more time playing with sticks, building forts, reading books and engaging in activities without a device. They can take time alone and entertain themselves quietly without a device, something that is good for both the adults and the kids.
It's not just kids who are challenged with this culture of devices. Greg McKeown, New York Times bestselling author, wrote in his article The Most Important Hour of Your Life the following: "TIME magazine reported that, on average, we check our phones 110 times a day. At the highest levels people check some 900 times a day." For certain jobs, I understand this, but ask yourself the following: "Is this really an emergency? Is my involvement absolutely necessary? What cost (to my family, to my friends or to my relationships) am I paying for this?" And don't restrict this just to business. Chris Howland of NBC Sports, in his article Cyclists combat selfie epidemic at 2014 Tour de France, wrote about the risks and problems caused by persons taking selfies with the cyclists behind them. Howland mentioned the support of fans showing up along the official route being great, but quoted American Tejay van Garderen's Tweet about the selfies: "It’s a dangerous mix of vanity and stupidity." It's a symptom of a self-absorbed culture in our own virtual worlds.
Probably the most sobering video addressing this issue was found in the September 2013 New York Times article Disruptions: More Connected, Yet More Alone by Nick Bilton. The article features the YouTube video "I Forgot My Phone", what Bilton says is "a direct hit on our smartphone-obsessed culture, needling us about our addiction to that little screen and suggesting that maybe life is just better led when it is lived rather than viewed." Charlene deGuzman, the actress who wrote and played in the video directed by Miles Crawford, made the following statements: "It makes me sad that there are moments in our lives where we're not present because we're looking at a phone. ... It wasn't until this year that I've had these revelations about living in the moment without my phone. ... I still have my phone with me, but I try to leave it in my purse. Now I find myself just taking in a moment, and I don’t have to post a picture about it." As my wife and I say, we have the memories and the experience if nothing else and that's what matters most.
John Hope Bryant, bestselling author of How The Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class, wrote in his article Africa: Teaching Us A New Way To Learn! the following: "Most everywhere you go these days, you see something like 3 out of 4 people, heads down, looking at some personal handheld devise screen." If that is the figure, I like being in the 25% with my head up. I'm not saying devices are wrong (or that kids with devices are bad or do not know how to play), but I am challenging how we use and consider devices. In working towards my Master of Arts in Counseling degree in the 1990s, I learned about being "present" with others. I like looking up. I like looking into people's eyes when I speak with them and actively listening. I do not do this perfectly, but people feel valued, heard and appreciated when I interact with them in this way. And I like seeing the world around me - the birds, the people, the landscape, the buildings, the cars and yes, the pedestrians. Don't miss it! I hope that we can put the device down and look up. I hope that we will not forget how to be truly connected and truly experience.
* Note: Since the year this article was written, the author's phone was upgraded to an iPhone as a gift from the person who provided his original phone. While the author now has an iPhone, he still follows his motto to "Be master of my technology, not mastered by it." Typically, he turns off his phone before dinner time after arriving home from the office and it does get turned on again until the morning of a workday where it is used as a tool at the office (similar to what he did with his old phone). Its primary purpose is to make phone calls with a secondary purpose as a camera and a third purpose as a tool (for carb look-ups, web development and the occasional GPS). The author aims to prevent it from ever being a distraction. If it hadn't been a gift, the author would continue using an old phone. If the author needs to cut costs, this phone may be the on the chopping block. That said, the author admits he can sound a bit self-righteous and at times has filled the "device gap" with another technology. He is not against technology and devices if used with moderation and in a manner that does not subtract from healthy relationships and living. He admits that from the Solitaire and Minesweeper games along with AIM on a bulky desktop to email to social media, etc., on a laptop, he has been using technology for decades similar to how persons might intend to use their phones today. While he is tempted to be obsessed like the next person, he intends to be master of his technology, not mastered by it, while being more present to those relationships around him. So, forgive any perceived self-righteousness of him and know that he has written these words as a fellow journeyman aiming for that which is good.
Just for fun and thought...
Matt Walsh: Your child's smart phone is turning him into a zombie and a stranger. And he is being profoundly influenced by social media personalities and YouTube stars you've never even heard of. Is it time to reclaim our children, and our families, by pulling back from technology?
(Parady of Lion King's "Circle of Life")
Dilbert by Scott Adams 20 December 2017
Dilbert by Scott Adams 19 September 2018
40 cartoons that perfectly illustrate how smartphones have taken over our lives
The Digital Dulling of our Children
Dr. Carol Reynolds - June 10, 2016
- Recommendation for under 2 years of age is 0 hours, but kids ages 2 and under are spending time on screens anyway.
- By age 7, the average child spends a full yearr of 24-hour days on recreational screen media.
- Tweens spend on average 4.5 hours daily on screens media.
- Teens spend on average 7 hours daily on screens media.
Arguments for Screen Time with Caveats:
- Keeps them interested, engaged, occupied BUT it is now the new pacifier.
- Keeps well-behaved, socialized, BUT there is a lot of bullying on social media.
- The iPad is something that will be with them for life, BUT I think they should be able to wait for things (delayed gratification).
- It will help them be computer-ready, BUT they need to be life-ready, brushing teeth, etc.
- Dulling the imagination; a basic requirement for imagination is boredom and these devices won't allow it.
- Dulling reality; the device's vivid visuals are not reality.
- Dulling creative development; play with electronic toys is associated with decreased quantity and quality of language input compared with play with books and traditional toys (JAMA 2016). Kids also need large motor skills associated with traditional play such as at playgrounds.
- Dulling ability to socialize. Squabbles can teach healthy social interaction and boredom countered by creativity. Now we have "safe spaces" and miss out on different views.
- Dulling ability to hear music. Acoustical objections - danger for ears as well attention and awareness problems - as well as aesthetic objections.
- GPS: There are people who cannot find anything without it; i.e., not thinking (and "they" know where you are). There is a human cost of alienation from nature according to Richard Luov who is on a quest to save our kids from "nature-deficit disorder."
- Broken connection between mother and child as seen with "brexting" - texting while breastfeeding. This means broken trust at a fundamental time in a child's life.
Why do we fall into it?
Is there anything more precious than the things we are missing?
Genesis 2:9 (NIV):
"The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
God has given us everything, but there's always something there to be judicious with.
- No TV in child's room
- No TV watching during meals
- Make rules (and we make rules they hate all the time)
- Involve them in making rules; e.g., give a device fully charged and ask "How are you going to use it because I have the charger?"
- Redirect their focus. e.g., foster appreciation for the arts
Find something that helps you find the beauty and help them find it.
A thing of technology is an amusement for a little while.
A thing of beauty can last forever.
Additional Reading and More
WHO classifies 'gaming disorder' as mental health condition - Susan Scutti, CNN
Addicted to your Smartphone? This Formula is Why: The Formula for Phone Addiction Might Double as a Cure - Simone Stolzoff, WIRED
Most unhappy people are unhappy for the exact same reason - Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University, Quartz
The Need to End Convenience or "Being Better Off is Not Being Better" - Pastor Tommy Nelson, Denton Bible Church
You Love Your iPhone. Literally. by Martin Lindstrom, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times.
Research Article: Development and Validation of the Smartphone Addiction Inventory (SPAI) - Yu-Hsuan Lin, Li-Ren Chang, Yang-Han Lee, Hsien-Wei Tseng, Terry B. J. Kuo, Sue-Huei Chen, PLOS ONE
Steve Jobs Didn’t Let His Kids Use iPhones Or iPads: Here's Why by Tim Butters, author, Inquisitr.
Why Successful People Never Bring Smartphones Into Meetings by Dr. Travis Bradberry, Co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and President at TalentSmart.
Parenting as a Gen Xer: We’re the first generation of parents in the age of iEverything by Dr. Allison Slater Tate, The Washington Post.
iForget: A Look At Digital Dementia, Excessive Screen Time and Why Your Kids Are At Risk by Leigh Seger, Internet Safety Consultant with Covenant Eyes.
10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12 by Cris Rowan, Pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, speaker, author, The Huffington Post.
10 Points Where the Research Behind Banning Handheld Devices for Children Is Flawed by Lisa Nielsen, Educator, speaker, author of 'Teaching Generation Text', The Huffington Post.
A Map of Every Device in the World That's Connected to the Internet by Alissa Walker, Gizmodo.
'Text neck' is becoming an 'epidemic' and could wreck your spine by Lindsey Bever, Reporter The Washington Post.
Keep Your Head Up: 'Text neck' Takes A Toll On The Spine by Laura Sullivan, Correspondent, NPR Investigations.
Why you should take a social media sabbatical by Paul Jarvis, best selling author and designer
Why the modern world is bad for your brain by Daniel J. Levitin, James McGill professor of psychology and behavioural neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal.
Phubbing: Does your partner love his cellphone more than you? - Meghan Holohan, TODAY
"This generation's cigarette": media and religion professors team up to analyze selfie culture (an analysis by Jerry Holsopple and Linford Stutzman) - article written by Kara Painter, Eastern Mennonite University
I Used to Be a Human Being: An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too. - Andrew Sullivan, Select All (New York Magazine Tech News)
Escape to another world: As video games get better and job prospects worse, more young men are dropping out of the job market to spend their time in an alternate reality. Ryan Avent suspects this is the beginning of something big - Ryan Avent, The Economist: 1843 Magazine
Are You in Love With Your Phone? - Smartphone Compulsion Test by Dr. David Greenfield, University of Connecticut psychiatry professor and founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, The New York Times